It’s a story 58 years in the making, but Petty Officer Peter Williams has finally received his Herbert Lott Award.
The Navy man, who is now 90 years old, served in the South African Permanent Force from 1957 until 1962, and the Royal Navy in his native Britain before that. He was granted the award after completing a gunnery instructor course in Britain where he achieved an overall mark of 78,8 per cent despite missing out on four weeks of the six-week course in 1959.
“The South African Navy was getting modernised at the time when I served, but was short of instructors,” Williams said.
“A few other people had participated in the six-week course [to qualify as a gunnery instructor] already, but they had failed the exams which were held after the preliminary six-week training course was done and therefore could not go on to complete the one-year course [which people could only undertake if they passed the exams].”
Williams, who was based in Simonstown with his wife Sheila at the time, was invited to attend the course himself in May 1959 and accepted the offer. But things did not go according to plan.
“The night before I was meant to leave Cape Town [to Britain to participate], I got word that I couldn’t go over after all. Two weeks after I was supposed to leave, a senior officer sorted everything out and my participation was re-instated.
“At this point, I had already missed two weeks of the course, and it took another two weeks to make the trip there by ship.”
This meant that he had already missed four weeks of the course and was only present for two weeks of the material.
The petty officer worked hard to make up the work, staying up until midnight each day to read and learn the coursework. At the end of the six-week preliminary course, Williams wrote the same exam as everyone else and managed to achieve a result of 78,8 per cent. He qualified for the extended course, which he completed in May 1960.
“After the course was done, I came back to South Africa and worked at the gunnery school in Simonstown. A few months later my wife was reading the Commando magazine [the SA Defence Force magazine published monthly at the time], where she read an article which said I had received the Herbert Lott Award for my top marks.”
The Herbert Lott Award was originally issued to sailors who excelled in or developed methods of making Royal Navy gunnery more efficient and effective and was set up in 1928. He was never officially notified or handed his award and put it out of his mind as the years went on. “After Sheila passed in April this year, I happened to mention the award to our daughter [Gayle Defranceski] and she took it upon herself to get the award and give it to me.”
She contacted the Royal Navy to inform them of the situation and organised for the award to finally make the trip out to South Africa. After the first citation was lost in the post, the second finally arrived in the country in mid-August and Defanceski handed it to her father at a special surprise party she planned.
The award now hangs in William’s living room, along with photos and paintings of ships and other Navy memorabilia.
“I suppose it’s better 58 years late than never,” he said of finally receiving it.
“I just have to say that Gayle has been my pillar of strength since my wife died, and I’m so thankful she got the ball rolling.”